What Is The Relationship Between Depression And Substance Abuse

Alcohol in bottles and used syringes lying on the table

The link between mental health disorders and substance abuse has been reported by research studies for quite some time now. Research has also pointed out that of the many forms and types of mental health disorders, depression has one of the strongest links to the onset of substance abuse addiction. 

Some mental health experts have observed that persons who have been found to be going through a mental health condition do, at some point in their lives, succumb to addiction to either alcohol or substance abuse. Statistics show that they would tend to drink up to 69% of the alcoholic beverage in America, and sniff up to as much as 84% of the country’s cocaine supply. Cases in which these two have been found to occur together could mean extreme risks for those who are affected. 

Here’s a brief article on the relationship between depression and substance abuse if you’re looking for ways of finding treatment for addiction and depression for yourself, family, or other loved ones.

What Is Depression

Dependence on drug heroin young woman after having pierced with

Depression is considered a serious mental health disorder. People who are going through depression often exhibit an excessive mood of emptiness, sadness, or loss of interest. Depression can severely impact a person’s quality of life, rendering many unable to function as normal in everyday living. In many patients, it affects the way they think, feel, and behave.

Depression is often diagnosed as a major depressive disorder or clinical depression. It’s a common mental health condition, which affects the health of millions of Americans. Some of the common characteristics of clinical depression are prolonged bouts of sadness and feelings of hopelessness. These bouts of depression can often last for weeks and sometimes even extend into months.

To cope with their feelings of hopelessness and sadness, many patients diagnosed with clinical depression often resort to alcohol and drugs. Some of them get hooked, and eventually fall into addiction. At present, roughly one out of every three who are going through clinical depression is also struggling to break free from addiction to a substance or to alcohol.

What Are The Different Types of Depression

Female teenage looks addicted while counting drugs

There are many different types of depression. Clinical depression is the overarching category of depressive disorders. But under this are different sub-categories of depressive disorders. These different types have quite a number of similar characteristics. But there are also differences and distinctiveness in terms of the presumed causes of the depressive disorder, the timing, and duration.

Here are the different types of depressive disorders:

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – This is a mental health disorder in which the patient loses interest in almost everything that they were doing previously. MDD patients also often show depressive moods, loss of appetite, feelings of guilt, suicidal tendencies, sudden changes in sleep patterns, low energy levels during waking hours, and tendencies to show agitation. These symptoms typically manifest every day for at least two weeks.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) – This type of disorder is considered the more chronic type of depression. Individuals suffering from PDD typically experience depressive symptoms every day. This can go on for about two to three years. PDD is also sometimes referred to as dysthymia, and sufferers typically have symptoms which are less severe compared to those of MDD.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – This is a type of depressive disorder that some people go through during the winter season. It typically goes away during the spring and summer seasons when there’s more sunlight during the day. But it’s common for this type of depression to recur each year.
  • Postpartum Depression – This type of depression is commonly experienced by women after giving birth. This can be triggered when a woman goes through a major depression. One of its negative impacts is that the mother finds it hard to take care of herself or her baby.
  • Depression With Psychotic Features – This is a type of depression in which the patient shows signs and symptoms of both depression and psychosis. Persons going through this can show symptoms of delusions and hallucinations.

What’s The Link Between Depression And Addiction

It’s been observed to be common for people diagnosed to have a high tendency to succumb to different forms of addiction. The effects of their depressive disorder on their mental health often entice or push people to try addictive substances.

People who have depressive disorders often succumb to substance abuse because of the euphoric effects they get from alcohol and drugs. The euphoria they get somehow temporarily numbs their senses or lessens the pain they feel. There are those who call this a form of self-medication.

But the problem with self-medicating depression is that they tend to have an adverse effect of worsening the symptoms. It gives them a short term or momentary escape from reality. But in the long run, their condition worsens.

Drugs Which Induce Depressive Symptoms

There are many drugs which are considered depressants to the nervous system. The most common examples of these drugs and substances are opioids and alcohol. When used, these drugs tend to induce depressive symptoms among patients such as lethargy, feelings of hopelessness, and sadness. 

It has been noted that among people who are suffering from a depressive disorder who at the same time get addicted to substances or alcohol, suicidal tendencies typically increased by about 10-25%. It has also been observed that people who try to self-medicate tend to succumb to addiction, which is also given the more formal technical term substance use disorder

In some research studies, they’ve discovered that people who are going through some form of mood disorder or depressive disorder, had a likelihood to succumb to a form of drug use disorder or addiction which was twice than the likelihood of other people who aren’t suffering from any depressive disorder.

Studies have also found that among those who are suffering from any form of depressive disorder, self-medication isn’t the only cause or driver of addiction. Research has shown that the experiences a person went through that led to the onset of the depressive disorder may have also contributed to triggering the slide to substance use disorder. 

Here are some examples of experiences that led to depression or a depressive disorder, which further complicated this with the onset of substance use disorder:

  • Loss of a family member or other loved one 
  • Unemployment or loss of other significant source of livelihood
  • Bankruptcy or other forms of financial stress
  • Relationship problems
  • Having been physically assaulted by other people
  • Other traumatic events

These and other similar experiences have been found to be a common cause or driver to make a person go into a depressive disorder, and in many instances, into a substance use disorder.

Other than some past traumatic experiences of the affected person, biological factors have also been identified as potential causes which play a role in the onset of depressive disorder. Mental health professionals and specialists classify both depression and substance addiction as mental health disorders. 

Part of the reason for this is that both disorders have been found to be affecting the same areas of the brain. They also cause compulsive behavior in affected persons which are significantly similar. For instance, one thing in common among persons suffering from either or both depressive disorder and substance addiction disorder is that their condition tends to disrupt their ability to make rational and well-thought-out decisions. It also seems to impair their capability to maintain self-control.

Some mental health professionals and specialists have also discovered that depressive disorder and substance addiction disorder tend to happen at the same time in the person affected with the conditions. It was observed that depression or depressive disorder and substance abuse disorder tend to feed off each other when the host person is suffering from both conditions. 

For example, depression and drug addiction tend to intensify the symptoms of the other condition or disorder, thereby worsening the other disorder. This happens in complicated cases where the patient exhibits severe symptoms of depressive disorder behavior and is at the same time hooked to a grave form of addiction usually at the late stage. 

When You’re Down And High

Some mental health experts and professionals say that the relationship between depression and substance abuse is sort of bi-directional. This basically means that those who are feeling down with their emotions and with their personal circumstances would also be found to have a higher likelihood of getting hooked into substance abuse at about the same time. Likewise for individuals who have succumbed to an addiction to alcohol or substance abuse. 

When you’re feeling down, it becomes easier to experiment with anything that could possibly numb your senses or somehow ease the emotional pain or pangs that you’re going through.  People who feel down and suffering from depression often find themselves running to the refuge of drugs and alcohol. Both provide them with some sort of a temporary escape from the doldrums of their despair and sense of hopelessness. 

Indeed, statistics show that one out of every three people who got hooked to substance abuse addiction is also going through one type of depressive disorder or another. In much the same way, around one out of every five persons going through some serious depression would also likely succumb to substance abuse at some point during their depression. 


People who are always high with substance abuse or frequently inebriated with liquor, would often experience the onset of depression when the euphoric effects of the drugs wear off. They also tend to go through severe pangs of anxiety when they’re recovered from drinking too much alcohol. 

The result is that the affected person craves for the drugs and the alcohol again, or both, thereby creating a seemingly endless cycle in which one condition worsens the other in a mutually dysfunctional bi-directional way – leaving the affected individual down and high.


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